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COSTA RICA
“I have a right to be happy, no matter what I am”
George Rodríguez
8/21/2015
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Women sex workers seek to be visible in Costa Rica’s legislation, draw up a bill recognizing their rights as regular workers.

Having had it with the historical, prejudiced way they are socially regarded, Costa Rica’s women sex workers are set on becoming visible in this country’s legislation.

To do so, leaders in this field have decided to present the Legislative Assembly —this Central American nation’s single-chamber, 57-member Congress— with a bill recognizing their rights as regular workers.

The idea is to have access to social security as sex workers, and having the State pay for social security in cases of older colleagues in poverty, in order to provide women in this trade with the necessary health care, considering their line of work is one of high risk in this field.

The project —presently being drafted— is ground braking, but the legislative process could prove an uphill battle, considering resistance from the more conservative diputados, a bloc including lawmakers from several Christian parties, as leaders of the Asociación de Trabajadoras y Extrabajadoras del Sexo “La Sala” (Association of Sex Workers and Former Sex Workers “The Living Room”) told Latinamerica Press.

The group —whose motto is “women sex workers and former sex workers fighting for our rights” is also focused on promoting preventive health among these workers as well as their clients. This includes dialog as well as condom distribution for both men and women.

The HIV prevention campaign —aimed mainly, but not exclusively, at La Sala members— has been successful, since the organization has kept AIDS at level zero in its ranks.

Within the organization, “there are no women sex workers living with HIV,” assured general coordinator Nubia Ordóñez.

The idea is to extend the drive to other populations at higher risk for HIV, thus reaching communities as diverse as transgender women, or trans, and men who have sex with other men.

Solidarity support
A high priority for La Sala is support for colleagues in socioeconomic need, particularly women 40 and over, as Ordóñez and the organization’s spokesperson Grettel Quirós said.

Discrimination and stigmatization –besides violence plus health risks- are part of the harsh reality faced by women in the sex trade, hostility coming from society in general, men in particular, and, in some cases, these workers’ families.

Some decide to hide their line of work from family members —including parents, children—, disguising their activity, while others are open about it, as Yamilith Galeano and Quirós respectively said.

Referring to the first group, Ordóñez said that Galeano chose to pretend before her family “for fear of stigma and discrimination (…) from her family,” adding that “there’s nothing uglier than to live in hiding.”

“I’m a sex worker, but, in my case, they never realized, in my family, that I was a sex worker, and now I think: if they know, they play dumb, and if not, they never realized it,” Galeano told Latinamerica Press.

“But I always went out to work,” and “for my children to respect me, I’d say I worked for a hotel, from six to two in the afternoon, and I’d dress, let’s say, with a white blouse and a black skirt,” she added, and stressed that “they still don’t know.”

“What happens is that, in my home, there’s like much prejudice, maybe they’re a bunch of holier-than-thou. I have a brother who’s a pastor, the only one I have,” she explained. “But I feel it was a mistake I made, you know. Now, I see my fellow workers, and I envy them  —it’s a good kind of envy—, because I say: ‘What the heck? Why didn’t I do the same they did? I mean, the cover was blown, and if you’re going to be labeled, well, be labeled once and for all.”

“But in my case, it would be worse (…) because, look: if they realize now, imagine, they’d put me under the magnifying glass,” she stated.

In the shadow
Being in hiding “is something you’re going to carry always: what if they realize? What if someone saw me and tells my daughter? It’s something you’re always going to carry,” she underlined.

Asked about the possibility of opening up with her children, she said she believed it was too late, although “with the sexual work I gave them schooling, thank God.” She said her daughter “is now too old, she’s 36 (…) it would be more difficult to tell her,” and “she knows I work here with sexual workers. What she doesn’t know is that I’m one, also.”

Quirós, who expresses herself in a direct, often humorous and colorful way, assured that “I’m public.”

“I have had five children. Since they were little, they knew what I was doing so I could give them food,” said Quirós.

A few days before the interview with Latinamerica Press, “one of my sons called me, and said: ‘Mommy, I’m very proud of you’,” she pointed out.

“My daughter was the first president” La Sala had, during five months, added Quirós, explaining that “she used to be a worker,” but “she left the sexual work, and now repairs motorbikes and cars,” Galeano pointed out.

Coinciding with Galeano, Quirós told of her suffering “because I’d see my friends or acquaintances, with their husband and their perfect family, and I’d say: ‘But, how come I can’t have that? Why was it that I had to raise them [her children] by myself? Where’s the father? Why don’t I have a family as pretty as that?’ I left their dad (…) I had the five children, and I told him: ‘that’s it’, and I went back to sexual work.”

Her decision implied “alcoholism, and a lot of other things. It was terrible.”

But “when I arrive here [to La Sala], they save my life, and they tell me that I have a right to be happy, no matter what I am,” she added.

The moral of her story, in her words, is that, “those couples I used to envy, everybody got divorced, so I’m the fortunate one, because I got married to a client.” —Latinamerica Press.


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Nubia Ordóñez addresses a meeting with civil society organizations supporting La Sala?s social work. Grettel Quirós sits to her left. (Photo: La Sala archive)
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